Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Anaheim vs. Chicago in the Postseason

A spot in the Stanley Cup Final is on the line as the Anaheim Ducks and Chicago Blackhawks fight for the Western Conference title. It is the third postseason matchup between Anaheim and Chicago teams in the four major pro sports. Interestingly, in three different sports, all in the semifinal/final four round.

1985 Bears d. Rams 24-0 in NFC Championship
2005 White Sox d. Angels 4-1 in ALCS
2015 Ducks vs. Blackhawks in West Final

1985 NFC Championship

The 1985 Bears were one of the most dominant teams in NFL history. Their punishing 46 defense held opponents to 12.4 points per game as they rolled to a 15-1 record. Their offense was pretty good too, I was surprised to see they were second in the league in scoring (28.5 ppg). After stomping the Giants 21-0 in the divisional round, they hosted the Los Angeles Rams (who played their home games at the Big A in Anaheim from 1980-94) in the NFC Championship Game.

What an amazing open by CBS, narrated by the late, great Pat Summerall. The Bears got out of the gate quickly, scoring a touchdown on their opening drive on Jim McMahon's 16-yard scramble.

Chicago led 10-0 late in the second quarter, but the Rams were in the red zone in the final minute before halftime. With a timeout in his pocket, L.A. coach John Robinson had a clock-management meltdown, allowing the clock to run out with the ball at the Bears' 5-yard line.

In the third quarter, Eric Dickerson, who ran for a playoff-record 248 yards in the divisional round, coughed up his second fumble of the game. It was a miserable afternoon for the star running back, with the Bears holding him to just 46 yards.

The Bears extended their lead to 17-0 when McMahon hit Willie Gault with a 22-yard touchdown pass.

Chicago punctuated their victory with Wilber Marshall's 52-yard fumble return touchdown that made the score 24-0.

Super Bowl XX in New Orleans was little more than a coronation as the Bears demolished the Patriots 46-10.

2005 ALCS

The Yankees and Red Sox had two classic showdowns for the American League pennant in 2003 and 2004. Both reached the postseason again in 2005, but were knocked out in the Division Series (the Angels held off the Yanks in five games while the White Sox swept Boston).

A rainout pushed back the fourth game of the opening round, so the Angels lost to the Yankees in New York on Sunday, beat them in Anaheim on Monday, then had to play Game One in Chicago on Tuesday. They were no worse for wear when Paul Byrd outpitched Jose Contreras in the opener for a 3-2 road win. Contreras worked eight and one-third innings and was replaced by Neal Cotts for two batters, and that would be all we'd see of the White Sox bullpen in the series.

The most notable moment of the series was late in Game Two. Mark Buehrle pitched a five-hit gem for Chicago, but despite Jarrod Washburn not lasting five innings for the Halos, relievers Brendan Donnelly, Scot Shields and Kelvim Escobar kept it a 1-1 game in the ninth. With two down in the bottom of the ninth, Escobar got A.J. Pierzynski to swing and miss for the third out. Catcher Josh Paul rolled the ball toward the mound and the rest of the Angels headed off the field for extra innings. However, Pierzynski ran to first base and home plate umpire Doug Eddings ruled that the pitch had hit the dirt, ruling Pierzynski safe at first on a dropped third strike call.

The missed call by Eddings, often included among the worst and most combative umpires in the game with Angel Hernandez and CB Bucknor, allowed the inning to continue. With Joe Crede at the plate next, pinch-runner Pablo Ozuna stole second base on the second pitch. The third pitch would be the last of the game.

Crede's walk-off double tied the series at one. The White Sox took control quickly in Game Three, with Jermaine Dye's RBI double and Paul Konerko's two-run homer putting Chicago up 3-0 just four batters into the top of the first inning. That would be enough for starter Jon Garland, who shut down the Anaheim bats in a complete-game 5-2 win.

Game Four followed the same script. Once again it was 3-0 White Sox four batters into the game, with Konerko driving in all three runs himself on a home run. Once again, the visiting starter held the Angels to two runs in a comfortable victory, this time it was Freddy Garcia in an 8-2 win.

The fifth game was more dramatic. Byrd and Contreras squared off again in a Game One rematch. Dye's RBI double in the sixth pushed the White Sox in front 2-1, but Chone Figgins and Garret Anderson drove in runs in the bottom half for a 3-2 Anaheim lead. Escobar relieved Byrd in the seventh, but Crede greeted him with a home run that tied the game. An inning later, an error by Escobar on what could've been the third out opened the door for Crede, whose infield single scored Aaron Rowand with the go-ahead run. The White Sox tacked on two more in the ninth for a 6-3 lead. In the bottom of the ninth, Contreras retired his 15th straight batter to send Chicago to the World Series for the first time since 1959.

Contreras worked the fourth consecutive complete game for the White Sox. In the Fall Classic against the Astros, they swept four games by a total of six runs for their first World Series title since 1917, ending an even longer drought than the more famous one ended by the Red Sox one year earlier.

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